One particular match cannot encapsulate the definition, emotion and thrill of a league, but if someone were to provide an example of a quintessential Premier League game, the person would probably choose this Chelsea vs Liverpool clash from 2nd January 2022.
High intensity, having its fair share of controversy and an across-the-board pandemonium in a packed Stamford Bridge – this game was certainly the most entertaining match of the season so far.
Being a contest between the second and third-placed teams in the league table, quality was never expected to be lacking in this match, but both Chelsea and Liverpool came into this match with a weakened squad.
The Reds missed three players for returning a positive COVID-19 diagnosis – goalkeeper Alisson Becker, centre-back Joel Matip and forward Roberto Firmino, while manager Jurgen Klopp also contracted the virus ahead of the match.
Chelsea’s German duo Kai Havertz and Timo Werner recovered from the infection a few days prior to the game, but they were missing – or rather, they themselves chose not to include – their star striker Romelu Lukaku, not for unjustifiable reasons. The Belgian goal machine’s recent interview, where he explicitly mentioned not being happy with the system manager Thomas Tuchel is using at Chelsea, has understandably not gone down well with both the manager and the board. Not only was Lukaku dropped from the starting XI, but he was also omitted from the matchday squad totally.
The match had a fiery start as Sadio Mane provided Liverpool with the lead in the 9th minute, while Mohamed Salah netted the Reds’ second only seventeen minutes later. However, two goals inside four minutes helped Chelsea restore parity just before the half-time whistle.
Let us take an in-depth look at the major talking points from the match:
MISTAKES AT EITHER END OF THE PITCH HAUNT CHELSEA
The Blues had a bright start to the game and should have taken a deserving lead in the 7th minute when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s attempt to clear a ball to safety was intercepted by a tenacious Kai Havertz. The rebound fell kindly to Christian Pulisic, who had only Liverpool’s second-choice keeper Caoimhim Kelleher to beat but failed to do so.
That mistake proved to be costly as Liverpool broke the deadlock only a couple of minutes later, thanks to another individual howler from a player in blue. Whilst trying to head a ball which probably should have been cleared off with his feet, Trevoh Chalobah provided Sadio Mane with a goal gaping and the Senegalese did exactly what Pulisic couldn’t – beat the keeper to find the back of the net.
There was, however, controversy – not with the goal, but with the goal-scorer. Mane elbowed Chelsea skipper Cesar Azpilicueta only a few seconds into the game and was shown a yellow card by referee Anthony Taylor, but Tuchel and many pundits have claimed it to be a foul worthy of a red card.
Liverpool doubled their lead in the 26th-minute when a lofted ball from Alexander-Arnold caught Chelsea’s left wing-back Marcos Alonso ball-watching. As he has done so often this season, Mohamed Salah proved once again why it is a fatal mistake to provide him with any sort of space by scoring with a cheeky finish which silenced the place he once referred to as home.
THE REIGNING EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS PROVE THEIR METTLE WITH AN IMPROBABLE COMEBACK
A two-goal disadvantage after just 26 against the well-oiled machine of Liverpool – one would have called curtains to the game had the opposition been any other side – but Chelsea showed why they are the reigning champions of Europe.
Just when the men from Merseyside would have thought of going into the break with a two-goal lead, Mateo Kovacic reduced the deficit with a strike that will be played time and time again – and could probably feature in a Puskas award promo as well.
Kelleher’s punch off a Marcos Alonso freekick found Kovacic lurking at the edge of the box. The Croatian midfielder is known for many things, but scoring is not one of them. In fact, he had scored only three goals for the Blues prior to this game, but when his team needed him to produce something magical, Kovacic came up with an exquisitely sweet volley to help Chelsea reduce the deficit.
That wondergoal acted as a spring in Chelsea’s steps as they restored parity only four minutes later. An Antonio Rudiger clearance found N’Golo Kante in space, who then threaded a perfect ball for Pulisic. Having missed a sitter early on, the American redeemed himself with a precise finish to make the scoreline 2-2.
HIGH OCTANE FOOTBALL CONTINUES IN THE SECOND HALF, ALBEIT WITH NO GOALS TO SHOW FOR
The second half might have not produced goals, but it was certainly not short of action. Salah almost scored his second and Liverpool’s third in the 57th-minute, when he attempted an audacious chip from a long way away from goal. Thankfully for the Blues, Edouard Mendy was alert to avert the danger.
Only a minute later, the Senegalese custodian was called into action once again when his national teammate Sadio Mane tried to find the bottom right corner, but Mendy got a strong hand to the shot.
It was then the Blues’ turn to go all guns blazing, as Pulisic had an opportunity to hand the hosts what would have been all the three points. He did well to meet a cross from the left flank, but for the second time on the night, Kelleher stood firm to deny him.
MANCHESTER CITY ARE THE REAL WINNERS
It will be difficult to say which side will be more pleased with a point, as perhaps, both sets of players might feel they have dropped a couple of crucial points. At 2-0, Liverpool could have sealed the game had they been a bit more compact in their defence.
On the other hand, Chelsea could have also secured all three points had Pulisic converted any of the two opportunities he missed. Given the current scenario in the points table, it will be fair to say that the real winners in the game between Chelsea and Liverpool are a team who did not feature here: Manchester City, since they now have a 10-point lead at the top of the table.
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